Archive for March, 2014

RENOVATE: Week 26

As you were reading the scriptures this week from the Old Testament Book of Numbers in our devotional Bible on March 21st through March 23rd, you encountered an interesting gentile prophet named Balaam. His story is an incredibly insightful study. At first glance, you may be asking, “What did Balaam do wrong?” We will first consider that question.

He was an unfaithful prophet.  Balaam, by the ability given to him by God, had the opportunity to demonstrate the power of the true God against the deception of false gods and idols. When Balaam pronounced a blessing or a curse, it worked. King Balak said as much when he summoned Balaam to curse the Israelites (Num. 22:6). Balaam could have helped the Moabites and their neighbors to “turn to God from idols, to serve the living God” (1Th 1:9). However, this did not seem to be an interest of Balaam.

He was a false prophet.  Balaam was too easily led away from God’s truth into error, and he in turn led many others astray (Num. 31:8, 16, Rev 2:14). Instead of giving the counsel of God, he taught people to practice idolatry and to commit fornication (Rev 2:14). It was his counsel that caused the children of Israel to sin and to suffer a terrible plague (Num. 25:1-9, Num. 31:14-16).

He loved money more than truth.  For all Balaam’s talk about speaking only what God put into his mouth, he was wishing to curse the children of Israel for the generous fee Balak was willing to provide for his services. Instead of loving righteousness, Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15-16). Balaam knew what pleased the Lord, but what pleased the Lord did not please Balaam.

He presumed to manipulate God.  Yes, Balaam uttered a blessing instead of a curse; but only because God gave him no option. What would be the point in Balaam pronouncing a curse if God was going to give a blessing? Balaam would have looked ignorant and damaged his reputation. However, Balaam kept going along with Balak’s repeated attempts to get a curse from God upon the Israelites. This he did because, like Balak, he hoped that possibly God, by insistence, would change His mind. Nevertheless, God refused to listen and was angry with Balaam for not rejecting Balak’s proposal from the very beginning (Num. 22:12).

At this juncture, let us turn our attention to how God dealt with Balaam.

God told Balaam the truth clearly — “Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people; for they are blessed.” (Num. 22:12).

God gave Balaam an unmistakable sign —The incident with the donkey and the Angel of the Lord (a pre-incarnate Jesus) left Balaam without any excuse for continuing to compromise with Balak’s wishes (Num. 22:21-35).

God judged Balaam worthy of death —When he still insisted on going to Balak; but for his donkey, Balaam would have been killed by the Angel of the Lord (Num. 22:33).

God provided a savior for Balaam —Balaam’s donkey was Balaam’s suffering savior (Num. 22:33). As such the donkey may be seen as a type (prophetic symbol) of Christ.

God was longsuffering with Balaam —God was showing patience with Balaam’s pandering to Balak’s three attempts to change God’s word by changing mountaintops. (Num. 24:10-13).

God punished Balaam’s error with death —Consider those who heeded Balaam’s wicked counsel. (Num. 25:1-8, Num. 31:14-18).

God finally killed Balaam — This was accomplished at the hands of the Israelites (Joshua 13:22).

In summary, Balaam was a “prophet for profit!” His story should remind us that the gifts and abilities given to us by God belong to God. They are to be used in His service and not for our own ill-gotten gain. Devastation always awaits those who unrepentantly use their lives to further a selfish agenda with no thought or concern for the Maker of heaven, earth, and all things contained therein; the One who gives life and takes it because all life emanates from Him! May none of us “go the way of Balaam.”

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 25

Considering the Old Testament readings from March 16th and 17th; I want to explore the certainty that risk is woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. Because we often delude ourselves into thinking we hold sway over the outcome of unfolding events, we wrongly ascribe a false sense of security to our realm of control. What happens when we do not escape from the enchantment of this fallacy? What happens if we live in this mirage of safety?

Less than three years after the people of Israel came out of Egypt by the Hand of God, they found themselves on the border of the Promised Land. In Numbers 13:2 the Lord says to Moses, “Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel.” Moses sends Joshua, Caleb, and ten other men.

After 40 days they return with a huge cluster of grapes hung on a pole between two men, illustrating the abundance and blessing of the land. In Numbers 13:30 Caleb, after quieting the people, exclaims, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.” Yet in verse 31, excluding Joshua, the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.”

Caleb was unable to explode the myth of safety within the other spies and those that followed them. The people were gripped by the enchantment of security. They murmured against Moses and Aaron in Numbers 14:2 and longed for the “safety” of Egypt; even death in the wilderness! This of course was nothing more than an imagined fantasy.

Consequently, Joshua joins in the attempt to free the Israelites from their invented refuge, “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it to us– a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they shall be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” (Numbers 14:7-9)

Yet not even Joshua could explode their myth of safety. The people were misdirected in their fear for an imagined sense of security. This attitude displayed itself in their heinous desire to stone Joshua and Caleb! Such behavior, of course, is wrong.

It is wrong not to take risks for the cause of God. Paul told young Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7). In fact, we have no control over future events, only God does; and true safety is rooted in His righteous promises and power.

Followers of Christ live life in the realm of faith and not in the dominion of perceived circumstances. Regardless of the apparent obstacles in front of them, the preeminent attention of Joshua and Caleb was upon pleasing God and trusting His promises of a land. The Israelites who relied on the assessment of the other 10 spies were deceived by faulty, fleshly judgment rooted in artificial security; which resulted in wandering for 40 years and fulfilling their wish of dying in the wilderness!

I pray this word will be “food for faith.”

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 24

And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?”  (Mark 10:23-26, NASB)

This reading is taken from March 10th in our devotional Bible; which actually translates the original Greek in verse 23, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (HCSB, underline mine). The disciples were astonished because it was the more affluent in society who had greater access to training in the scriptures, the ability to contribute more to the temple, and the attention of the leaders within Judaism.

Jesus shifts their normal paradigm of thinking by generalizing His statement even further to entrance for anyone into the kingdom; “…how hard it is to enter.” He then focuses again upon the wealthy, “…easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter…”

This dialogue of Jesus follows His encounter with the rich young ruler; an individual who sincerely comes to Jesus seeking eternal life. Leaving off the first commandment, Jesus reassures the wealthy inquisitor to keep the specific commands directed toward other people; in other words, “…do unto others.” This appeals to the fleshly, religious nature within the young man (indeed, within every person) and he genuinely believes he has kept these directives from his youth. Remarkably, even believing he has maintained what his religion requires of him, he is still empty inside; hence his request of Jesus for eternal life. Aware of his real need, Jesus challenges the aristocrat with one more demand; he must sell all he has, give it to the poor, and follow Him. A careful examination of the appeal will show that Jesus is holding the young ruler to the standard of the first commandment, “…have no other gods before God.”

I do see hope for the young man. For in his disposition, sincerity is revealed. He goes away from Jesus sorrowful, grieving because he had many things. He did not leave offended or indignant; he left with anguish which could haunt him until he might have returned!

In all of this, Jesus is breaking the perceived mold of a human being’s religious nature that one has to “do” something to earn God’s merit. The fallen, sinful individual is naturally bent toward relying upon them self to find peace and rest in life; in essence being their own god. Jesus point here is that this is especially true regarding the wealthy because they view themselves as the owner and earner of the capital they oversee. Consequently, the reason I like the HCSB rendering of verse 23 above, “…those who have wealth;” is because it speaks toward someone who imagines the resources bestowed upon them as their own; from their own hand. “Wealth” can fit many categories that point back to a person’s reliance upon self; an endeavor reflecting Satan’s temptation of Eve in the garden to be like God.

The lesson for you and me is found in our perspective of the universe God has made. Do we “have wealth;” or does the “wealth” under our care come from the Gracious Hand of God? Who, or what, is the real god in our lives? Regarding the question of the disciples, “Who can be saved?” The person who views their life and everything in it as a magnificent gift from the Sovereign Lord will be saved.

Is this hard to hear? Is it too difficult to follow? If you answered yes, I completely agree with you. I only hope you do not go away from this word angry or offended. If you are grieved by the hardness of your heart, then there is truly hope you understand the gravity of your plight. Thank God for the cross and resurrection of Jesus. For we love, and can follow, because He first loved us!

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 23

From the March 5th reading of our devotional Bible:

And they had forgotten to take bread; and did not have more than one loaf in the boat with them. And He was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”   And they began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? HAVING EYES, DO YOU NOT SEE? AND HAVING EARS, DO YOU NOT HEAR? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?”   They said to Him, “Twelve.”   “And when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?”   And they said to Him, “Seven.”   And He was saying to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:14-21, NASB)

This is a very intriguing event in the lives of the disciples. Matthew reveals the topic of understanding in chapter 16 of his gospel, while Mark leaves it to the reader to contemplate an answer to Jesus question. Mark also adds the detail that the disciples had no more than one loaf of bread in the boat, a fact which Matthew leaves out. This knowledge adds an extra dimension to the story, especially if one is left to decipher an explanation as to the meaning behind the words of our Lord.

These men had seen amazing things from the hand of Jesus! He reminds them to reflect on the previous feeding miracles of which they had been a part. He specifically calls attention to the over-abundance of the leftovers after all had eaten and been satisfied. On both occasions, from such meager and humble means, Jesus had wrought great provisions on behalf of massive crowds of people. This causes the reader, especially here in Mark, to reflect on the reality that if Jesus had done so much with so little in the past, could He not have provided abundantly for the disciples from one loaf? The answer, of course, is a resounding, “…without question!” The lesson in all of this was Jesus concern for the spiritual diet of His followers; that they should not be led astray by the harmful ingredients contained in the teaching of men whose religion served only to elevate themselves. The disciples could not see beyond the moment of their own personal self-preservation; be it their pride or hunger, they failed to discern Christ’s deeper lesson. This was unfortunate because when one cannot trust the Master in the small, everyday aspects of life, such as simple needs being met; how could the more weighty matters of existence be comprehended?

“Do you not yet understand?” is a question you and I face every day. David reminded us, “I have been young, and now I am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Or his descendants begging bread.” (Psalm 37:25, NASB)  When we are truly about our Father’s business; when we have ears to hear and eyes to see; faith looks beyond circumstance for provision; enabling us, those who are His followers, to remain vigilant and engaged in the mission set before us. This requires losing oneself in Christ for the true discovery of finding oneself in Christ (Matt. 10:39); crucial, lest we sell our inheritance, as did Esau (Gen. 25:31-34), for our own sin-guided self-interest; for our own “in-the-moment” perceived need, casting our pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6).

The words of the old hymn ring true regarding our lesson this day:

 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.

 

In Christ,

Pastor Rob